Presentations 201: Importance of Staying in Time Limits

There are many presentation worst practices well-documented on the Internet, especially concerning the use of PowerPoint slides. However, a top five worst practice employed by some marketing professionals is the overtime presentation, or more succinctly, the presentation that never ends. If given a 30-minute time slot for a presentation, why is it so important to “stay in time”?

Perhaps it’s a  stereotype, but most marketing professionals tend to be gregarious folk that enjoy communication and conversation. It’s no surprise that a fair portion of marketing presentations to sales teams, customers, and conference audiences tend to run over the intended time slot. Thirty-minute presentations sometimes morph into forty- and sixty-minute presentations cheat over into breaks and lunch.

At this point, perhaps you are thinking, “Who cares if a presentation runs five to 10 minutes over the time limit?” Here’s why the never-ending (overtime) presentation is a worst practice for speakers:

Going over time limits is disrespectful to your audience. Your audience most likely has a printed agenda and they expect you to stick to it. Moreover, audience members may have other presentations they want to attend after your talk, a pending conference call or scheduled break. Be on time! An exception is: If you ask permission from your audience to go over time (and your audience and conference organizer agree), then spend a few more minutes to summarize and close.

Going over time limits is disrespectful to other presenters. When the first and second speaker go over time, then usually conference organizers have to “make up time” by cutting into breaks or other presenter sessions. Be cognizant of the other speakers on the agenda and use your own time effectively.

Going over time limits is disrespectful to conference organizers. Most conferences have a room monitor to introduce speakers and monitor time constraints. If you choose to ignore the room monitor when time cards are flashed, then it’s pretty likely you won’t be invited back as a speaker.

Assuming the conference is running long and your speaking session is closer to the end of the day, prepare accordingly.

First, locate your conference organizer and ask him or her if your presentation will need to be shorter or if they plan on making up time elsewhere. Your conference organizer probably already has a plan in mind.

Second, adjust your presentation to the time limit. If you have 60 minutes of content and now just 40 minutes to present, start trimming slides if possible. Sometimes conference organizers make slides available prior to the conference, so this strategy may not work. If trimming slides isn’t an option, explore where you might spend one minute per slide instead of the usual two.

Third, monitor time during your presentation. It’s a difficult challenge to present 60 minutes of content in 30 minutes, especially if you cannot remove slides. If the conference organizer has not offered a room monitor to help you stay on time, you may wish to employ a presenter remote with built in vibration to alert you at the five minutes remaining mark.

Finally, if constrained for time, the master presenter remembers the adage of “never let them see you sweat.” Don’t apologize to your audience about your limited time together and most certainly don’t make remarks about previous speakers and/or your conference organizer. It’s much better to leave your audience with the impression that everything went as planned.

Questions:

• What other strategies might you suggest for speakers when a conference is not running on schedule?
• When giving a speech, what tips can you share on how you “stay in time”?

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